If the regular season ended today, the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem (does that still sound weird to anyone else?) would face the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians would take on the Boson Red Sox in the American League Divisional Series. In the National League, the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals would face off, and the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves would collide.
As close as many of these races are right now, I don't expect these potential playoff matchups to change much over the next two weeks. The American League Wild Card race is between the Indians, the Yankees, and ultimately the White Sox if they continue their sluggish play. Chicago plays eight against teams with winning records, which means their current freefall could potentially keep them out of the playoffs altogether. However, I still think the Sox top the Tribe by a couple games in the Central while the Indians settle for the Wild Card.
All this means that the Yankees will be left out of their first postseason since 1995. And, of course, the New York media will continue to express their "concern" for Joe Torre's job.
The National League Wild Card is even more up for grabs. Houston currently leads by two games over Philadelphia, three over Florida and are five in front of the Washington Nationals, perhaps the season's biggest success story. I think the pitching-rich Astros will hang on by a slim margin and win the Wild Card for the second consecutive year.
The divisional races in both leagues have heated up as well. The Cardinals are the only team that has clinched a playoff berth, atypical for this late in the season. The most intriguing races are in the American League East and West. The Red Sox lead the Yankees by a mere half game, while the Angels lead the Athletics by a game and a half. Look for the Angels to prevail, even though they travel to Oakland for four games in late September.
In the East, it looks like the Red Sox might still have the inside track. This race could very well be determined at Fenway Park in early October when these two teams meet in a season-ending series that is sure to garner much national attention. The Sox carry the best record in the league at home, while the Yankees are barely above .500 on the road.
Now, the really important questions arise: Which teams have the best chance of achieving postseason success and which are surefire first-round playoff dropouts? For obvious reasons, the middling Padres immediately spring to mind. St. Louis has better bats, an MVP candidate in Albert Pujols and a dominant pitching staff, including 21-game winner Chris Carpenter. The Padres, on the other hand, have just two regular players with batting averages over .275 and may be the first team to ever make the playoffs without a winning record. Nothing short of divine intervention should keep the Cards from moving on.
In the other divisional series, the Braves will face the Astros in what may prove to be an intense rematch of last year's effort. Look for the Astros to overcome the Braves in five, propelled by 42-year old Roger Clemens' continuned dominance. Sorry, Braves fans, it's another one and out.
In the American League, anticipate the Angels to overcome the nosediving White Sox and the Indians to surprise the defending World Champion Red Sox. The Angels have been playing better of late and are as healthier than they've been all season.
Both championship series will bring intrigue to the diamond. The Astros and Cardinals will provide some. The Cardinals potent offense will overcome the pitching dominance of the Astros' staff, and St. Louis will prevail in 6. In the ALCS, the Angels will overcome the Indians. The Angels offense, led by superstar Vladimir Guerrero, along with aces Paul Byrd, John Lackey and Bartolo Colon will barely overtake the Indians in 7. The infamous Rally Monkey (made famous during the teams' 2002 championship season) could be the deciding factor.
So we are left with a World Series of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Angels of Los Angeles. Anticipate an emotional series, a hard-fought battle to the bitter end. In my crystal ball, I see the Halos winning their second World Series in four years and the Cards finishing runner-ups for the second-straight year.